The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans might just be clueless

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) address reporters outside the White House on May 12. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Thirty-five House Republicans on Wednesday embarrassed their minority leader, Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), in defying his wishes and voting in favor of a Jan. 6 commission. Did he even bother to check just how many votes he would lose before pledging loyalty to the Mar-a-Lago leader of the GOP? Or is it possible that McCarthy, who already seems to be measuring the drapes in the speaker’s office, has no idea what he is doing?

After all, McCarthy, in attempting to corral opposition to the commission, achieved two things: He showed that a significant chunk of his caucus would not go along, but he also forced the other 80 percent to show that they are puppets controlled by the disgraced former president.

This follows other brilliant strategies, such as handing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) a giant megaphone to decry McCarthy’s Trump-dependency; leading a unanimous vote against the overwhelmingly popular American Rescue Plan; and declaring a red line against raising taxes on corporations (55 of which paid no federal income taxes last year). None of these make sense if the aim is to secure working-class voters and win back some of the women, suburbanites, college-educated, Asian American and young voters that the party lost in November.

Republicans’ support for eviscerating Roe v. Wade does not help them with any of these groups, nor does their resistance to police reform and their blatant attempts to suppress the vote. Opposing free community college is not going to win them plaudits among younger voters, just as blathering on about a “stolen” election goes over like a lead balloon among more educated voters. And in the self-destructive category, few things can top the Republican proposal to pay for an infrastructure bill with a gas tax instead of corporate taxes when the party is trying to win back suburbanites, who often must commute by car.

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In case Republicans had not noticed, several of the groups they are busy offending with stunts such as opposition to the Jan. 6 commission and preference for corporate tax scofflaws are the same people turning out in larger numbers than ever before. TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, reports that the youth vote, which remains strongly Democratic, increased in 2020 while “voters age 40-49 and 50-64 dropped by a significant margin.” Meanwhile, the groups Republicans aim to appeal to (at the expense of growing segments of the electorate) are declining. Another political data firm, the Catalist, found that “72% of the electorate was white, down 2 percentage points from 2016. This comes almost entirely from the decline in white voters without a college degree, who continue a steady decline (in percentage terms).” Republicans’ prime target, non-college-educated Whites, were a majority of the electorate in 2008. In 2020, they were down to 44 percent.

The instinct for many is to assume a basic level of competence among Republicans. But that flies in the face of evidence. Remember: They are pledging undying loyalty to the guy who lost them the House, Senate and White House. Their dastardly plots, as infuriating as they might be, are not necessarily working in their favor. Just because, for example, they are creating barriers to voting does not mean that they will improve their chances in 2022. The opposite might be true.

Kowtowing to the MAGA crowd while unconscionably shirking their oaths of office is no brilliant plot guaranteed to deliver victories in 2022 or 2024. No one should confuse mendacity with competence. In other words, never mistake Republicans for very stable geniuses.

Read more:

Karen Tumulty: Tentative signs of sanity among the House Republicans? We’ll see.

E.J. Dionne Jr.: McCarthy, McConnell and the illusion of bipartisanship

Dana Milbank: When the next attack comes, the blood will be on the GOP’s hands

Max Boot: Why Republican opposition to a Jan. 6 commission could be a blessing in disguise